Captain R. Younghusband’ Last Stand And Charge At Isandlwana

Graham Charles Lear
7 min readFeb 11, 2022


“Impi, wo nansimpi yeza,
Wobani bengathinta ma bubhesi?”

“Who is going (to be stupid enough) to touch the lions?

Step forward Captain Reginald Younghusband and his “C” Company.

Reginald Younghusband was born in Bath in 1844, to Captain Thomas Younghusband and his wife Pascoa Baretto. He married Evelyn Davies, and in 1879 he was captain of the 1/24th 92nd Warwickshire Regiment, in South Africa, taking part in the Zulu Wars.

This is his story of how he and his men died at the Battle of Isandlwana and how the Zulus stopped the attack to respect the British culture before annihilating his company.

“During the battle, just before it ended a large group of British and African Soldiers led by Captain Younghusband rallied near the foot of the mountain, succeeding in holding off Zulu attacks for some time.

They had fallen back and had climbed up a little way. From that position, they could see the whole of the camp being overrun by the Zulu. So they must have managed to go up quite a distance. It is not clear quite how they reached this position, but the location of the graves suggest that they retired up the slope from the northern end of the mountain, and certainly Zulu accounts refer to a company falling back behind the tents.

The stand made by Younghusband’s men on the shoulder impressed many witnesses at the time, and all accounts agree that they held a good position, and were able to keep the Zulu back for as long as their ammunition lasted.

There are not many British accounts other than from mounted soldiers escaping the slaughter that saw them withdrawing to a higher position who then made their escape. So we have to rely on the Zulu account which is passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth.

The Zulus are rightly proud of what they did, they are a proud people who took on the might of the British Empire, and strange as it may seem both sets of soldiers both Zulu and British liked each other and both the Zulu and the British soldiers could not understand why they were fighting each other. However, it is what it is, they were now fighting each other to the death, and while the average Zulu could not read or write just like the average British soldier they had a system to remember their history which was by word of mouth, passed down from father to son.

Also if you are fortunate enough to go to South Africa and go on to the Battlefields and take a guided tour you will find that there are a few Zulu guides that are the grandsons and great-grandsons of the ones who fought in this battle and they are a treasure trove of information.

The main source of what happed is an account by a warrior of the uNokhenkewho were facing Captain Reginald Younghusband and “C” Company.

….. a lot of them (i.e. soldiers) got up on the steep slope under the cliff behind the camp, and we Zulus could not get at them at all, they were shot or bayoneted as fast as they came up.

One of the local Zulu guides is Mphiwa Ntanzi whose great, grandfather and grandfather fought in this battle, what is wonderful is the Zulu perspective of it it all and listening to him it becomes apparent that both sides had no choice, but to fight each other and that he as a Zulu holds no grudges toward the British who eventually won the war.

Mphiwa makes it quite plain that there was mutual respect on both sides for each other

Chief kaMahole one of the commanders at the battle had come up to lead the Zulus who were facing Younghusband, he was about to send in his men in a final mass charge to finish C company off, Mphiwa Ntanzi tells how kaMahole suddenly calls off the attack. Why would he do that? The answer is quite simple. Chief kaMahole had seen a British Officer who we now know to be Younghusband, leave the line and go to every soldier regardless of rank and shake hands with every soldier. Younghusband and his men knew they were all going to die and he was thanking each and every one of them for being at his side and for doing their duty.

Chief kaMahole said wait give those men the last chance to say goodbye to each other.

WAIT respect their culture, he shouted, what a wonderful gesture that was, how respectful that was.

Younghusband then turned facing the mass of Zulus drew his sword whirled around his head and as one C company charged down the slope right into the Zulu mass where they were slaughtered to a man, however not before Younghusband’s men caused heavy casualties amongst the Nokenke regiment as they came charging down the spur

“Impi, wo nansimpi yeza,
Wobani bengathinta ma bubhesi?”

“Who is going (to be stupid enough) to touch the lions?

Younghusband and C company was, however, that is not how the Zulu Nokenke regiment saw it, they saw very brave men who in their eyes were very brave warriors equal to themselves

However, there is more to tell.

A survivor of Younghusband’s company had not joined the last rush with his Captain but had instead retreated to the foot of the cliffs below the high peak. Here, there is a small cave, no more than 2 or 3 metres high, extending back about the same distance into the hillside. The entrance is screened by several large fallen boulders, and the last few metres of the approach are steep. This the soldier defended, shooting or bayoneting every Zulu who came near, until at last they grew tired of him, and several Zulus with rifles fired a volley into the cave — and killed him. It is said that this anonymous survivor held his position until “the shadows were long on the ground”. We are not actually sure that he might have been wounded and had been taken higher up and had crawled into the cave. However

Wedged into the recess at the end of the cave, exhausted, thirsty and highly agitated, aware of the terrible fate that ultimately awaited him, with fleeting glimpses of fanatical Zulus flitting across his front, this must have been a traumatic experience indeed.

So much so, that Dublin painter Richard Thomas Moynan painted the scene and called it “The Last of the 24th”. It is a tremendously powerful picture, showing self-sacrifice and stoic resignation to one’s fate at the end of a long, hard road, so dearly beloved by Victorian audiences. Of course, it meant nothing to the Zulus, but then it wasn’t meant to — it was aimed at a well-heeled, sentimental Victorian market.

I first came across this painting 25 years ago in an antique shop in Jermyn Street London Just down from the Ritz. I walked in off the street just to look at what was for sale more out of curiosity than anything else. There it was tucked away out of sight in a small backroom that I happened to wander in by mistake. It was standing not hanging in its large frame, It was surrounded by the heads of African wild animals on the walls Lions, Antilope, and many more wild African animal heads, it’s larger than you think and quite lifelike. Standing in front of it felt like I was one of the Zulus trying to get at him. It was as if he was saying to me, I have had enough, I am tired, I know the end is near, do what you must do, get it over and done with.

There must have been many panicked survivors attempting to find refuge all over the mountain, which is riddled with caves and crannies. Why has this particular cave been singled out? Is it because it’s the closest to the site of the stand on the knoll?

If this whole incident indeed happened, who was he? There is no evidence, only an assumption, that he was a member of Younghusband’s company. There is no evidence even that he was the 24th man. He could have been anyone.

If he had lasted until “the shadows were long on the ground”, in other words, mid-afternoon at least, how much ammunition was he carrying, bearing in mind that Younghusband’s bayonet charge was prompted by the lack of it?



Graham Charles Lear

What is life without a little controversy in it? Quite boring and sterile would be my answer.